Posts Tagged ‘Business Planning’


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

11-17 stop sign small

If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.


3 Tech Tools That Make Your Small Business Seem Much Larger

11-13 shadowBusinesses no longer are forced to lease office space and hire multiple employees to start and grow. Thanks to the many technology tools that are available today, even a one-person startup operating out of a home office can interact with clients and customers. Best of all, these tools are often affordable, utilizing the devices an entrepreneur already has.

By choosing the right selection of tools, a professional can grow slowly, giving customers the impression the business is located in a large multi-story business suite. Here are three great technologies that can turn your small enterprise into a complex business, complete with customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

VoIP Call Forwarding

As a small business owner, your cell phone is your lifeline. Today’s cloud-enabled VoIP phone systems offer a wide variety of features to facilitate communication as you grow. Using an online interface or a desk phone, a business can forward calls as needed throughout the day.

As a business adds employees, additional users can be added, with calls being routed to employees whether they’re at home, in the office, or traveling from one meeting to the next. These systems can also be set to ring multiple phones at once, so a professional can have a desk phone, cell phone, and home phone ring simultaneously to ensure no call is ever missed.

Cloud Services

Cloud service providers have served as the great equalizer in the business world, giving SMBs access to technologies traditionally only available to larger businesses. Companies pay a monthly fee for access to software, file and application hosting, and web hosting from any device. Cloud services providers employ some of the best IT professionals to provide the highest level of security and reliability.

In addition to providing storage and software functionality, the cloud has also made it possible for businesses to rethink the traditional approach to getting work completed. Instead of committing to a full-time employee with salary and benefits, a business owner can contract with an online virtual assistant to help manage tasks, as well as graphic designers, application developers, marketing professionals, and other workers. This work can be done on a paid-per-job basis, with workers potentially living on the other side of the world.

Billing and Payment Solutions

Invoicing is an essential part of any growing business. During the process of building and growing a startup, an entrepreneur doesn’t have the time to dedicate to sending invoices, collecting payments, and tracking funds. Automated solutions give business owners the opportunity to automate the process, saving time and preventing costly errors.

Newer solutions also offer the opportunity of setting up a portal through which clients and vendors can view and pay invoices, as well as view the status of pending payments. These tools cut down on the number of phone calls for information and give a business an even more professional, big business appearance.

Technology has opened up many possibilities for businesses, including giving small businesses the ability to appear much larger. By setting up the right infrastructure from the beginning, an SMB can give itself a competitive edge in its field.


Why Dentists Can Predict the Next Economic Downturn

11-13 Dentists and economy smallDental appointments actually say a lot about the state of the US economy and can predict its future health. According to a recent Businessweek article, patient visits per scheduled follow-ups, ratio of actual to projected fees for dental service, potential monthly revenue from suggested treatments, and accounts receivable per practice are all factors that gauge consumer confidence and have reliably predicted the direction of the economy for the last seven years.

Using these metrics, where is the economy heading in 2015? According to the dental index numbers, things may be pretty bleak.

Patients aren’t coming back. For starters, August 2014 saw a dip in the number of follow-up dental visits patients kept. Dips also occurred 11 months before the 2008 recession and again in 2009 amid the recession. This would indicate a downward turn in the economy sometime in the middle of next year.

Patients are not getting supplemental dental maintenance. Patients are rejecting services that supplement a traditional hygiene appointment, such as x-rays and more complicated maintenance because of cost. These numbers, which have stayed relatively constant over the past four years, are currently fluctuating and more closely resembling the 2007-2009 timeframe during the Great Recession.

Patients aren’t accepting treatments. There is also a growing gap between the number of treatments dentists are planning to perform and the number of treatments patients are accepting to have done. History has shown that this gap occurs just before the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Patients aren’t paying on time. Accounts receivables of dental offices are larger when the economy dips because patients and insurers are slower to pay. Accounts receivables are up 22 percent since last year and are close to 2008 levels.

Every small business owner should look at customer behavior inside their own business as pre-recession indicators. Are existing customers not coming back as often? Are they buying less than they used to? Are they not buying into suggestions of products and services? Have they stopped paying on time? This is quite common throughout a pre-recession economy and small businesses need to be especially wary of how this affects their cash flow.

Indicators such as the dental index may be the key to helping the US economy prevent a cavity!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customer Service Trends for the Holidays

Modern Christamas gifts box presents on brown paperThe holiday shopping season is almost here, and if your small business hopes to come out on top in the furious competition for holiday sales, you’d best take notice of these holiday shopping trends for 2014 and what they mean to your customer service.

Online shopping takes center stage.

Customers are using the Internet not only to shop for gifts, but also to research holiday purchases even when the final purchase is made in a brick-and-mortar store.

What you can do: Whether you sell products online, in a physical store or both, your digital presence is crucial. Use customer service tools such as live chat to engage with prospects browsing on your website. Prominently put contact information such as your toll-free customer service number/s on every page of your website. Post your store’s address, phone number and hours of operation clearly so your website drives customers to your store.  

Time is of the essence.

Consumers are busier than ever; a recent holiday shopping survey found that’s one reason they’re going online to “pre-plan” their spending. Waste their time and you risk turning them off your business permanently.

What you can do: Make sure your customer service staff, from order takers or call center employees to front-line retail clerks, is adequate to handle peak demand. Also ensure your network is working properly so customers shopping or researching online don’t experience delays. If you have an ecommerce site, offer multiple options for getting help fast—from call-in numbers to FAQs and popup live chat windows.

Money is tight.

More than 80 percent of consumers plan to spend the same as or less than they did last year. Consumers say price is their top consideration when deciding where to shop.

What you can do: Help customers make smart choices focused on value. As a small business, you may not be able to offer rock-bottom prices. Here’s where your customer service team comes in, by offering expertise and guidance to explain why your products are worth their cost and helping customers decide between various options.

Shoppers have lots of alternatives.

The average consumer will visit two to three stores and/or websites before making a holiday purchase. Online, the competition is just a click away.

What you can do: Providing stellar customer service is essential. Make sure your customer service team is trained, empowered and energized to provide the best possible shopping experience. If you don’t already have a loyalty program, implement one now to reward loyal customers. 


Mondays with Mike: 6 Creative Ways To Make Sales Internationally (Even If You Think You Can’t)

11-3 International competition smallAs the marketplace expands to cover more and more of the globe, you’re going to realize your competition may not just be the guy across the street.  It might be a guy in Mexico or China.  The big difference in having competition in another country is that you can’t simply focus on defensive measures to preserve your business.  You must start thinking about offense – what you can do to increase your market share by expanding your client base.

Say you own a little pizza shop.  Now I’m not going to pretend that it’s a good idea to figure out ways to deliver pizzas to China, but what I am telling you is that you can find a way to market yourself overseas.  Here’s how you can make it work:

  1. Convert your offering to information.  Pizzas don’t travel well, but books and videos do!  Whether you create a series of videos sharing your tips and secrets on running a small business, or whether you create a recipe book based on your Italian grandmother’s recipes, one of the best ways to cultivate business all over the globe is by creating a unique product that’s easily marketable online.
  2. Embrace the power of Skype.  While you may not be able to shake the hands of the folks buying your new recipe book in other countries, what you can do is have a small bookshop conduct a Q&A Skype session for the people buying your book.  You can use Skype to meet your fans and give them a personal connection to you and your brand.
  3. Leverage your culture.  The US has cultural capital, and there’s no reason not to cash in on it!  Establish yourself as a uniquely American business (with a plan that will work in other countries as well.)  If you’re selling your business model and sharing coaching tips, you can even promote cross-cultural awareness by encouraging your new international contacts to share the difficulties and successes they face in other countries.
  4. Play up the pen pal effect.  So you’re helping other businesses get on their feet … why not send them a little piece of your home country?  Receiving fun mail is increasingly uncommon.  Just think about how excited your international customers would be to get a handwritten letter from you.  Whether you reach out to bookstores selling your wares, or whether you ship a personalized thank you to people working on establishing a business that’s modeled after yours, your contact will make your brand memorable.
  5. Find a way to handle other currencies.  Whether you use PayPal or one of the other services that facilitates money transfers among different currencies, make sure you’re prepped so pesos and euros don’t keep you from completing sales.  Being able to work with other currencies lets you reach far more clients.
  6. Establish a local presence.  Once you get a foothold in another country, it’s important to signal your appreciation for and dedication to that business.  Whether you schedule personal appearances or establish a local bank account, consider getting more deeply involved in those communities who support your business.

It’s a big old world out there, and there are more potential customers every day.  Think big.  Think global.  Find some way to package your business for an international audience, and you’ll reap the benefits.


Top 10 Ways to Spy on Competitors (Legally)

Young Man Using Binoculars in Rockway Beach“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” -Sun-Tzu, Chinese general

Knowing about your competition has always been important in the world of business. With the Internet, this marketing intelligence has never been easier to find out, but it does take discipline and planning. By doing this type of research, you can find where your competitors are strong (so you can copy it) or weak (so you can exploit it).

Here are actions that can be done today:

  1. Follow them. Sign up for their company newsletter or mailing list. Like and follow their company pages and their personal executive profiles on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, create a special group for your competitors on these tools so it will be easier to identify what they are posting.
  2. Mystery shop. The best way to understand what your competitor sells and the customer experience they provide is to actually buy their product or service. An actual buying experience will show how good their communication is with their customers. Analyze what their product looks like when it is delivered. Explore their post-sales support to see if there are things that can be adapted for your company.
  3. Ask a question. Do this through many different communication channels like email, Twitter, Facebook, phone and their web site. Examine their quickness of response and how complete their knowledge is when answering customer inquiries.
  4. Call with a complaint. How do they respond? Do they follow up to completion or do you need to keep explaining the issues over and over again?

Here are online tools that can help:

  1. Explore ad monitoring tools. Find out where your competitors are advertising and which keywords they are targeting. Tools like AdBeat, AdGooRoo and Moat will help find out what ads and keywords competitors are using.
  2. Find their backlinks. Backlinks are still an important element in organic search engine ranking. Use tools like Moz’s Onsite Explorer and Majestic Site Explorer to find the backlinks that your competitors have on their site. There may be an opportunity to link your site to the same backlink or use them for customer referral sources.
  3. Track their website traffic. Your competitor’s sources of traffic can be an important comparison. Use tools like Alexa or Similarweb to get the information you need.
  4. Find out what customers are saying. While, it is critical to find out what customers are talking about on the web, it is equally as important to understand what they are saying about your competitors. Put your competitors name in tools like Google Alerts and Talkwalker and it will send you an email anytime a new comment about them gets posted on the web. Social Mention and Topsy can also be used for one time searches about competitors overall positive or negative sentiment analysis.
  5. Determine their social media presence. See how your competitor is doing on Facebook. Use tools like Fan Page Karma to find out their reach. A similar process can be done on Twitter with Follower Wonk.
  6. Track their technology. Determine what platform and add ins your competitor uses and where they can be vulnerable. Use Builtwith to find this out.
  7. Explore web site content changes. Want to know if when your competitor changes their website? Use Copernic to track updates or particular keywords.

Remember, assume everything is public these days. Whatever spying you are doing on your competitors, they are probably doing the same on you!


Mondays with Mike: The 5 Cloud Mistakes That Will Cost You Big-Time

10-27 Business in the cloud smallI’m a cloud evangelist.  I work out of my backpack, and running my business on the could lets me work from anywhere on the planet, all while providing the highest level of customer service.  While I’m a huge fan of the cloud, I also know some folks who have underestimated the cost of converting their companies to run on the cloud.  Here are some things to avoid if you’re looking to make the leap.

  1. Thinking the cloud is free.  Sure, you may be able to find a music service that gives you access to your tunes at no charge, but if you’re looking for full functionality – the ability to collaborate, buy, sell, communicate, and store data on the cloud, you’re going to have to pay for it.  Even the simple problem of data storage may end up costing you more if you use the cloud, rather than hardware, but in exchange for the higher fee, you get the ability to access your data from anywhere.  It’s important that you accurately assess fees before you dive in, though.  Monthly subscriptions for cloud storage can add up, so you need to do your homework.
  2. Stopping at storage.  Data storage is what most folks think of when they contemplate uses for the cloud, but what many people forget is that simply storing the data doesn’t go far enough.  You may need data analysis.  You may need credit card processing.  You may need automatic backups.  Each service you add raises your prices each month.  Make sure you account for everything you’ll need.
  3. Thinking there’s one cloud.  It’s a big sky full of lots of clouds.  You may use Nextiva for your communication needs, while your accounting may be handled by QuickBooks.  Those are separate clouds, and they don’t necessarily work easily together.  Finding fixes when you need to move data from one cloud to another can be costly.  Think about it – the slide show you create on Google Drive doesn’t necessarily port perfectly to PowerPoint.  You have to find workarounds, and those cost time and money.
  4. Assuming all your apps will work on the cloud.  Quite simply, they won’t – though more do each day.  If you’re wedded to a particular accounting program or to a specific phone system, you may have trouble converting your apps to the cloud.  There are fixes – PC Anywhere and My Cloud Anywhere can help with the conversion, but you’re going to have to pay for their services.
  5. Getting locked in.  The more customized your cloud configuration is, the harder it will be to move data from cloud to cloud.  Proprietary coding and formatting differences can make it a nightmare to work among a variety of apps.  Your best bet is to be agnostic – minimize your attachment to any one proprietary system – and you’ll find it easier to move from one app to the next with a minimum of difficulty and expense.

Yes, the cloud costs money.  And yes, it can be a hassle to navigate all of the options and functionality.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely!  The ability to collaborate at a distance, maintain communication regardless of location, and exceed customer expectations from anywhere on the globe is absolutely worth it.  


Mondays with Mike: How To Prep Your Business For Sale In 90 Days (Or Less!)

I know a thing or two about selling businesses.  I’ve done it both hard way, and the easy way, and it’s not hard to figure out which way I prefer.  Even if you plan on turning your company into a legacy that your children will run after you’re gone, the best time to get your business ready to sell is today!  Before you ever want or need to sell your business – that’s when you should start.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Identify strategic buyers.  Strategic buyers are those who want your business for some reason other than just your company’s revenue.  They may want your customers, your intellectual property, or even your employees.  If you can identify these buyers, you can learn which of your assets are most desirable – and you can protect them.
  2. Resolve any legal troubles.  Buyers won’t want to touch a business that has lawsuits or liens against it, so you need to clear up any old business and get your company in the clear. 
  3. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on profitability, rather than debt.  Businesses are often valued by a multiple of their profit, so you’re better off directing extra revenue toward measures that make you more profitable.  Paying down debt with your extra money doesn’t add nearly as much to your value.
  4. Protect your key employees’ positions.  We all have those staff members who are critical to our survival, and it’s smart to make a plan for what you’d do if one of them left.  Whether your discreetly cross-train employees or keep a list of potential new hires, you want to make sure that if one of your key employees leaves, that your business goes on as usual.
  5. Get out of the office.  Not only is your business more valuable if it can run in your absence, but you also need to be out in the marketplace as the face of your company.  You need to continue running your business as if you’re going to hand it down to your children, and that means cementing relationships with important clients and maintaining your market share.  Don’t slack off!
  6. Cut costs.  You’ll boost your selling price if your company is lean, efficient, and profitable.  Make sure you trim unnecessary expenses and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the health of your company.
  7. Work with a business broker or investment banker.  You’ll want to make sure your business is ready to sell when you tackle this step, but you’ll often find that brokers have a stable of businesses looking to acquire others.  Not only can you sell your company more quickly, but a broker can also help you get top dollar for it.
  8. Be hard to get.  If you appear to be desperate to sell, your value diminishes.  Cultivate a field of buyers and watch your price go up.  You want buyers to have competition in order to ensure that you get every penny you’re worth.
  9. Keep it quiet.  The news that you’re looking to sell your company can potentially frighten off employees and even deter new clients from signing on with you.  You want your business to continue to grow and flourish … just in case a sale falls through.

The time you spend preparing your business will give you one additional benefit other than just getting you ready to sell, and it’s actually a huge one.  Your business will be healthier.  Much of the advice I’ve listed here is stuff you should be doing anyway – measures that make your business more efficient and profitable, in addition to making it more attractive to buyers.  




 
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